For our first HelpExchange, we’re spending a week in February with an older English couple who’ve been in Spain for many years. In exchange for room and board, we’re helping with the cooking and cleaning, working a bit in the garden, forging a few Spanish documents on the PC (the bureaucracy here is amazing), and varnishing/painting a new room they’re building onto the house.
Our accommodation is a large one-room cottage next to the house with two beds, a table and chairs, a small kitchen, a bathroom, and a bookshelf. I’ve pulled out The Wind in the Willows, which I haven’t read in years.
The house is in Orgiva, in the Alpujarras, at the end of a quiet lane on the outskirts of town. The garden has a bit of everything: oranges, lemons, avocados, kiwi fruit, kumquats, and limequats (limes crossed with kumquats). Yum! (In the summer, there are tomatoes, grapes, apricots, strawberries, and raspberries; in the fall, apples, quince, and pears.) From the yard, you can see the hill village of Pampaniliera, and from the windows of the house and cottage, you can see the mountains.
Everyone here is worried because they never got the usual winter rains, so there’s no snowpack on the mountaintops to provide summer water. On the upside (for the locals, if not for us), we seem to have brought wind and drizzle along with us.
It’s wonderful to have such peace and quiet after spending the past month in cities—to fall asleep to the barking and baying of dogs in the distance rather than to the noise of school groups in the hostel or the yells of partiers outside the bars in the street, and to awake to the twitter of birds rather than the banging of garbage men or the throb of motor scooters.
And best of all, we won’t be spending any money for a week! Plus, there’s a pretty orange tabby cat with soft fur to stroke.
Of course, not all is heaven here—other than the incomparable fresh fruit, the food is pretty bad. Our hosts live up to the stereotype of English people and bland food, with a few twists of their own: not eating eggs, wheat products, potatoes, or most spices. It makes cooking a real challenge for Melissa, and the results are appreciated only by us.
Suffice it to say that when Melissa cooked a beautiful fresh pork loin stuffed with garlic and rosemary and coated in crushed almonds (which she’d cracked herself from fresh nuts from a neighbor’s tree), our host poured ketchup all over it!
Orgiva is a funny place: a standard southern Spanish market town that has been intensively settled by English (and a few German and other) expatriates. It has also attracted a large smattering of old and new hippies and youngish new-age folks. Lots of dreadlocks and indeterminate flowing garments—on both men and women. You hear as much English as Spanish on the streets, which seems very odd to our ears. Not the spot we’d choose to settle down in, if we were looking for one. But interesting enough for one week.